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Study Finds Accident Risk Not Reduced By Red-Light Cameras

New research suggests that red light cameras do not actually impact the number of accidents at intersections, and may actually contribute to increases in rear-end accidents after vehicles slam on their breaks at intersections known to have a camera, to avoid tickets. 

Researchers with Case Western Reserve University published a red light camera study this week, which questions the benefits of red light cameras in actually making intersections safer.

In the 12-year study, researchers monitored data in Houston and Dallas while red-light cameras were operating, and once again after they were removed by voter referendum. The findings suggest that adding red-light cameras was associated with a 28% increase in non-angle collisions, such as rear-end accidents.

While researchers recognize the importance of preventing t-bone collisions at interesctions, which commonly result in the most serious of injuries, data indicates that the amount of accidents overall increased when red light cameras are installed.  The reason for this increase is attributed to drivers abruptly slamming on the brakes to prevent running a red light and receiving a ticket, which increases the number of fender-benders and rear-end collisions that can also lead to serious bodily injury.

Researchers found once drivers recognized the presence of a red light camera at an intersection, they appeared to accept a higher accident risk from slamming on the brakes at a yellow light to avoid the expensive traffic citations, decreasing safety for themselves and other drivers.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), rear-end collisions account for about 30 percent of all automobile accidents, making them the most frequent types of recorded crashes in the United States.

Co-author of the study, Justin Gallagher, an assistant professor of economics at Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve stated “there is no reason to believe that there is a reduction in overall accident thanks to redlight cameras.” Gallagher further notes that the cameras do not appear to improve public safety by any means.

The study contradicts a recent report presented by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, AAA and the National Safety Council, which highlighted the purported benefits of placing cameras at intersections, including a red light camera checklist for planning and implementing camera systems they say have been proven to reduce traffic fatalities.

As of July 2018, only 421 communities across the nation are on record using red light camera programs, which is down from the 533 recorded in 2012. Researchers saw a 17 percent increase in the amount of traffic fatalities at intersections when comparing numbers from 2012 to 2016.

Gallagher recognized that recent research has shown intersection angle-collisions may have slightly decreased due to the increased use of red light cameras, however, the total amount of overall accidents has shown an increase, ultimately causing more injuries to drivers.

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